El Calentano's Regional Mexican Dishes Show Why Santa Ana's Taco Trucks Should be Left Alone
Your complaints are working, gentle cabrones: After promising a taco-truck holocaust, the Santa Ana City Council has been virtually silent on the issue for the past two months, as they continue talks with loncheros ready to sue if their way of life is endangered. In the meanwhile, continue to try the newer generation of SanTana's loncheras. One of the best spots right now is also one of the rarest: El Calentano.
It serves food from the Tierra Caliente—a.k.a. the Hot Lands, which span the states of Michoacán and Guerrero—in full meals, which is a rarity in OC's taco-truck scene. Here, you can get a plate of five Michoacán-style enchiladas (folded in half instead of rolled up) filled with beans, topped by a gargantuan slice of cecina or chicken: spicy, and hella filling. Even better is the mole, which exists nowhere else in la naranja. It's almost like a Sri Lankan curry, so astringent and furtively hellish yet delicious it is. And El Calentano also makes the largest quesadilla I've ever seen in Southern California: an expanse of masa as long as your forearm. The woman who runs the truck makes all the tortillas herself, which means the quesadilla is as cheesy as it is a corn dream.
I've actually never had tacos here because I get proper meal after proper meal (also fabulous: the potato tacos, as crunchy as a chicharrón). It can be hard eating the heaping servings on the spot because the only seating is milk crates, but whatever: Learn how to eat like a paisa already! Here is SanTana's lonchera scene at its best. A man always has a broom to clean the asphalt and dirt in front of the truck; the salsa station (with seven salsas, ranging from a light green to a smoky red to a hellish oil one better suited to a Sichuan eatery) is behind glass doors, the better to be neat. El Calentano is American entrepreneurship at its finest, and the Santa Ana City Council should give it and its peers all the tax breaks and subsidies they deserve. Better yet: Leave them the fuck alone.
El Calentano, on the corner of Bristol Street and Central Avenue, Santa Ana.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Orange County dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.